Thunder 52 vs Aussie Diamonds 58
Australia Diamonds edged a pulsating match against a Manchester Thunder Select team at the Thunderdome.
It was the final warm-up game for the Diamonds before they head to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games.
The black and yellows' new Aussie marquee signing Chelsea Pitman was unveiled to huge cheers before the match. Versatile Pitman has signed a one-year deal at Thunder, having last played for ANZ Championship side West Coast Fever in June. A number of guest players joined four of Thunder's regular players in the squad for the sold-out exhibition match.
The first quarter was frantic and fast-paced, with Thunder staying with the Aussies and marking them tight.
It was an even battle in the middle of the court, with Diamonds centre Kim Green developing a physical battle with Thunder's Rachel Henry.
Seven minutes in and the Aussies had stretched a three-goal lead but Thunder kept on plugging, forcing some vital intercepts, notably from wing defence Gabi Simpson. But they failed to capitalise, allowing Diamonds to steal possession back.
Midway through the half, Thunder coach Tracey Neville called a tactical time-out and it seemed to compose her players, who closed the gap to one at 7-8.
Uncharacteristic loose passing from the gold and greens heartened Thunder and the home side led 14-13 at the buzzer. Simpson switched to centre, with Henry taking to the bench as the start of second quarter played out identical to the first.
A Rebecca Bulley handling error was the tonic for the Diamonds to step up a gear and they raced past Thunder's two goal advantage and moved to a 19-21 lead. Thunder were rattled but still managed to churn out goals - with goal attack Erin Bell particularly impressive - to keep in touch with the Commonwealth Games medal favourites.
This time, an injury time-out to treat Simpson didn't benefit Thunder and they struggled for rhythm.
Throughout the match Diamonds shooter Caitlin Basset showed ominous form ahead of Glasgow, with excellent shooting accuracy and positional play.
Pitman was really beginning to show her class in the third and is certainly an exciting prospect for the reigning Superleague champions in 2014.
The 26-year-old's range of passing and experience of playing in arguably the best netball league in the world, will also be an asset for the English Superleague. Thunder began to show some tired legs midway through the third as Diamonds executed some audacious passing and skill - at one point the visitors were leading by seven.
But Thunder were not reading the script and called on some reserve energy.It led to a burst of scoring at the end of the quarter, with the deficit cut to just two (42-44). A rapid start to the final phase from Diamonds caught Thunder off-guard and they opened up a four-goal advantage.
Thunder persisted with their game-plan and a substantial period of possession ended in Bell netting a difficult long-range shot. But with Diamonds in front 52-57 and just a minute left on the clock, a late intercept from Emma Dovey was not enough.
It was a valiant effort from Thunder who went toe-to-toe with an international team in the world's top three right up to the final buzzer.